CALDWELL, ID - The Lewis-Clark State Warrior men left nothing to chance in Game 2 of the Cascade Conference Basketball Tournament Championship, presented by U.S. Bank, as the fourth-ranked team in the NAIA defeated in-state rival College of Idaho 80-71 to earn the first Cascade Conference Championship in program history.
The title marked the third year in a row the Warriors were cutting down nets as conference tournament champions, and the first as members of the CCC. LC snapped C of I’s three-year run as Cascade champs.
“Tonight was a phenomenal win for this group of seniors, our team and the LC program,” Head Coach Austin Johnson said. “We were tremendous defensively and our first half efforts really set the tone.”
The seniors starters got it done for LC State, with Damek Mitchell leading the way with a season-high 30 points. Trystan Bradley notched a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, Hodges Bailey added 13 and Khalil Stevenson scored 12.
“Damek was special all game, especially down the stretch to put the game further out of reach,” Johnson continued. “He’s an unbelievable competitor that steps up in big games. Trystan helped us hang in there with the rebounding battle and the rest of the seniors had special moments.”
Khalil Stevenson scored the first two baskets of the game to give LC the early lead. Trystan Bradley drained a 3 to make it 7-0. Stevenson added another to make it a 9-1 run. C of I rallied to pull within two at 9-7, but a 3 by Hodges Bailey pushed the lead back out to five, but the Yotes quickly tied things 12-12.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Mitchell and Bailey put the Warriors back in front, and a jumper by Bradley put LC in control 20-12. Oreon Courtney snapped a five-minute scoring drought with a tip-in to give the Warriors a 10-0 run. Jake Albright added to the run two make it 12 straight as LC held the Yotes scoreless for nearly seven minutes.
A deep 3 from Mitchell made it a 10-point Warrior lead (30-20) with just over two minutes left in the half, but C of I pulled within five before the break. LC led 32-27 at the half.
College of Idaho cut the LC lead to two with a triple in the second half, and a foul shot made it a 10-0 run by the Yotes. C of I tied the game 35-35 at 15:11, but two 3s from Mitchell gave the Warriors back the lead, 41-37, at 14:19.
Travis Yenor made two free throws before a fastbreak by Mitchell made it 45-37 for a 10-2 run. Bailey assisted Albright on basket before Albright returned the favor for a 3 by Bailey to push the lead to 50-42 with 11:52 to play.
The Warriors took advantage of a turnover by the Yotes and got the ball to Yenor for a big 3-pointer midway through the half. Another triple by Mitchell, his third of the half, was followed by a fastbreak off a steal to give LC a lead 58-44 with 8:36 on the clock.
A layup by Mitchell gave the Warriors their largest lead of the contest (16 points) for a 63-47 advantage at 5:15. LC State went to the free throw line 11 times in the final four minutes, resulting in 17 points. Between Mitchell and Stevenson, the Warriors made 11 straight foul shots.
Stevenson found Mitchell for a jumper in the final minute, the only LC points that were not from a free throw in the final three and a half minutes, and the Warrior defense held C of I to win 80-71.
As a team, LC State shot 43.6 percent from the field and drained 11 3-pointers. They made 21 free throws and held the Yotes to a 27.3 shooting percentage from 3.
LC State now awaits the announcement of locations and brackets for the NAIA Opening Round. Opening Rounds will be played on March 12 and 13 before heading to Kansas City, Mo.
“We hope to have many more games down the stretch, but I’m just so thankful to see these guys have the success they’ve earned in such a unique and challenging season.”